Repression in Vietnam on UN Human Rights Agenda in Geneva

The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights denounced multiple forms of repression against civil society in Vietnam at the twenty-first session of the United National Human Rights Council in Geneva, which opened this week. VCHR President Vo Van Ai addressed the Committee and expressed the organization’s deep concern about the multiple forms of repression deployed by the authorities against civil society in Vietnam. He submitted a list of 180 political and religious prisoners in Vietnam, many of whom are serving extremely harsh sentences simply for the peaceful expression of their opinions and beliefs.

Mr. Ai particularly condemned the “subtle but relentless” repression against the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), which is targeted by the Communist Party because of its long-established presence and wide support in Vietnam. To escape international scrutiny, the authorities use low-profile tactics of intimidation, administrative harassments, or arbitrary detention without trial, such as that of the UBCV Patriarch Thich Quang Do, who has spent almost 30 years in prison or house arrest, and is currently held under house arrest at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City without any charge. He is not allowed to practice his religious activities. Each Sunday, when anti-China demonstrations are held in the city, he is held strictly incommunicado at the monastery. He is a 2012 Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

Ai said that “Vietnam represses bloggers and journalists beneath a veneer of legality that is totally incompatible with international law. Using ‘catch-all’ provisions in Vietnam’s legislation, the government stifles all discordant and dissenting voices.”

Bloggers and journalists are imprisoned under an arsenal of vaguely-defined anti-human rights laws which have been roundly denounced by the United Nations and international organizations worldwide, he said, adding that trials are routinely unfair and the principle of presumption of innocence is denied. He noted the case of journalist Hoang Khuong, a reporter for the official paper Tuoi Tre (Youth) who was sentenced to four years in prison for “corruption”on September 7th at what VCHR called an unfair trial. On the contrary, he had actually written articles exposing police corruption which led to the conviction of a policeman.

Mr. Ai also expressed concern for the fate of bloggers Nguyen Van Hai (Dieu Cay), Phan Van Hai and Ta Phong Tan, members of the Club of Free Journalists. They are awaiting trial on charges of “disseminating propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” for writing articles in support of human rights and democracy. Their trial was scheduled for April 2012, but has since been delayed three times because of international appeals for their release, including from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and US President Barack Obama.

Warning that these cases are just the tip of the iceberg, Mr. Ai said that “rule of law is not yet a reality in Vietnam.” His organization has deep concerns about these cases of repression by the Vietnamese authorities to stifle civil society voices. “Citizens can be accused of phantasmagoric crimes or be condemned in advance before they are brought to trial if it suits the authorities, and have no other choice but to remain silent,” he added.

He called on Vietnam to stop ‘blatant violations of freedom of expression and religion’’ and guarantee the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence, which is enshrined in Article 9 of Vietnam’s Criminal Procedures Code. He also called upon the Human Rights Council to urge Vietnam to cease repression against the UBCV and immediately release its leader, Thich Quang Do. He also referenced that in In accordance with the Council’s 2012 resolution on freedom of expression on the Internet, that the jailed bloggers should be immediately released.

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